My gardening career was supposed to be perennial focused until I discovered the decorative power of dwarf ornamental shrubs. Newly introduced varieties are bred to be deliberately eye-catching. They add so much color and textural appeal to flower beds that the garden designer cannot ignore them.
One miniature ornamental shrub that I will be adding to my plant assortment next season is in the Barberry family. Berberis shrubs are dense and thorny, with foliage in the red to purple shades. Some gardeners use them as hedge plants because the thorns create an effective barrier. Others use them as specimens. One reason for their popularity is the ornamental quality and the rich, all-season color that they contribute to a mixed border. Gardeners appreciate both the low-mounding, globe-like appearance of Barberry shrubs and the fact that they are maintenance-free and undemanding. I use them when homeowners ask me to add purple to the color scheme of a garden.
Berberis plants tolerate drought and grow in well-drained, dry, poor, salty or sandy soil. They are also deer-resistant and pollution tolerant. However, in the northeastern part of the USA, this family of plants is invasive. It can form dense thickets in natural areas where it changes soil characteristics and disrupts wildlife. What sets the Concorde variety apart from all other Barberry is its non-invasive nature. Berberis thunbergii Concorde is environmentally friendly because it hardly produces any seeds.
Concorde grows 20 inches high, 30 inches wide and is hardy in zones 4a to 7b. In spring, its foliage opens up in a velvety purple-red, turns to deep purple in summer, and finishes off in purple with red berries in the fall. The leaves will hold their color even in the heat of summer. This plant offers the darkest purple in the Barberry family. While it is equally at home in sun to part shade, the deepest purple will occur when it grows in sun.
The rich coloration of Barberry foliage makes this plant a dramatic partner for silver or chartreuse colored plants. In addition, vivid animation is created when it is planted next to variegated shrubs such as Cornus, Wegelia or Diervella.
Be forewarned: Long, thick gloves must be worn when gardening near Barberry because they are very thorny shrubs. Some gardeners report that exposed skin becomes itchy when scratched by the thorns.